Sarah and Ella Wolfe

West Hempfield Township mother Sarah Wolfe, left, and daughter Ella Wolfe are both excelling in triathlons.

West Hempfield Township resident Sarah Wolfe, 42, is the mother of three teenage children.

She feels her kids are at a stage in life where they’re discovering what they’re passionate about.

“My kids do that in different areas,” Wolfe said.

For middle child Ella, that passion initially was swimming. Then the COVID-19 pandemic shut down Ella’s eighth grade swim season toward the tail end of the 2019-20 winter campaign. To fill the void, Ella turned to one of her mother’s passions: triathlons.

Sarah and Ella Wolfe are now both accomplished triathlon competitors, competing under the banner of the Lancaster-based Yoder Performance triathlon group.

Though, it should be noted that while the mother-daughter duo compete at the same locations on race day, they’re unable to do so against each other. Ella, 15, is only allowed to compete in Olympic distance triathlons. Competitors 18 and up can compete in a half-Ironman distance, which is about double the length of the Olympic distance.

For instance, at the Revolution3 Triathlon in Williamsburg, Virginia, in late June, Ella was the first female finisher in the Olympic distance, while Sarah won her age group in the half-Ironman distance.

Still, Sarah and Ella Wolfe do sometimes train together, usually on Ella’s light workout days, when her pace is slow enough for mom to keep up on a bike or a jog.

“She’s faster than I am,” Sarah said. “So it’s hard for us to actually run together.”

There have been competitions at the Yoder Performance practices, too.

“We do a 60K time trial,” Ella said. “And we beat each other. She has beaten me the last two times.”

It’s quite a change from Ella’s childhood. When Ella was 8 years old, Sarah brought her along to the Manheim Rock-N-Glow 5K.

“I walked the whole thing,” Ella recalled. “I was like, ‘I’m never doing that again.’ I hated it so much.”

Ella instead turned to the pool around that time. Later, in an effort to get in shape for the winter swim season, she decided to give cross country a try in the fall of seventh grade.

“Then we had one race and I surprised myself,” Ella said. “I won it.”

Ella just completed her freshman year at Hempfield High School. Last fall, she was the top girls runner on the Black Knights’ cross country team, placing seventh overall at the Lancaster-Lebanon League championship race. In the winter, she qualified for the league swim meet in the 500 freestyle.

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She might have to credit a bit of her success to genetics. Sarah Wolfe, a Chester County native, was a standout student-athlete in field hockey and lacrosse at Downingtown High School. She went on to play lacrosse for a year at NCAA Division II Bloomsburg University. After giving up lacrosse, Sarah took up running.

“I decided I wanted to run a marathon,” she said. “I thought that would be cool to accomplish that.”

She ran her first marathon in college and has since completed 15 marathons to date, including the Boston Marathon. She came back from hip surgery in 2015 to run a couple more marathons. But they were taking a toll on her body. In 2017, a friend introduced her to Andrew Yoder, a Hempfield alum and former standout triathlon competitor who was in the beginning stages of starting up his own group in which he could train others in the craft.

“This was the first year of Yoder Performance,” Yoder recalled. “A lot of the people still part of the group today are foundational athletes of YP. I consider Sarah to be one of these people.”

Sarah turned out to be a powerhouse on the bike, despite not having been on two wheels much before meeting Yoder.

“She’s a freight train on the bike,” Yoder said. “Completely natural cyclist. If she was younger and took up cycling as a teenager, she could have rode professionally.”

Which brings us to Ella, a straight-A student who, now wants to take a gap year between high school and college to give a go at competing in triathlons full-time. She’s already antsy to fast forward a few years so she can turn 18 and compete in the half-Ironman distance triathlons.

“I could probably go out and do one right now,” Ella said. “But I’m not old enough.”

It’s then she’ll be able to compete against her mom at triathlon events. But that eventual outcome doesn’t matter. What does is how the sport has helped Ella find her passion, while bringing her closer to her mom.

“This is an age where a lot of mothers and teenage daughters don’t have as much in common,” Sarah Wolfe said. “Or you can feel stress. We’ve had to manage different training obstacles and sharing equipment or food. ... but we have a good relationship. Ella is a strong, confident, wonderful young woman. I’m thankful I get to be her mom.”

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